WASHINGTON, Feb. 3, 2010 -- FBI officials flew in Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab's mother and uncle from Nigeria last month to meet with the Christmas Day bombing suspect for 10 days, law enforcement sources said today.
The two were specifically picked because of their close ties to Abdulmutallab. They arrived in the United States Jan. 17, the sources said.
The terror suspect's family played a pivotal role in getting him to cooperate with federal authorities in sharing information about al Qaeda, according to senior administration officials. The suspect has talked to the FBI for hours in recent days, offering what sources say is valuable, sometimes chilling, intelligence.
Abdulmutallab has identified his handlers in Yemen, including the man who designed his underwear bomb, and given extensive details about his training. He also said that there are other recruits just like him and emphasized that more attacks against the United States are in the works, sources said.
Attorney General Eric Holder, in a letter to Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., today said Abdulmutallab "has provided additional intelligence to the FBI that we are actively using to help protect our country."
National Intelligence Director Dennis Blair reaffirmed today what officials have learned from Abdulmutallab and warned that al Qaeda's pool of suicide bombers may include U.S. citizens and that the terror group may be targeting U.S. nationals overseas for attack.
Testifying before the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, Blair said that while the United States has ramped up its efforts against al Qaeda, it is becoming increasingly difficult to identify the group's immediate plans.
"The violent extremist threat is evolving. We've made complex, multi-team attacks very difficult for al Qaeda to pull off, but as we saw with the recent rash of attacks last year -- both successful and unsuccessful -- identifying individual terrorists -- small groups with short histories using simple attack methods, is a much more difficult task," Blair told House members today.
"We judge that al Qaeda maintains its intent to attack the homeland, preferably with a large-scale operation that would cause mass casualties, harm the U.S. economy or both," the intelligence chief wrote in his annual threat assessment for the committee.
Blair told the Senate Intelligence Committee Tuesday that an al Qaeda attempt against the United States "is certain," when asked about the possibility of it happening in the next three to six months.
CIA Director Leon Panetta and FBI Director Robert Mueller gave Senators a similarly stark assessment Tuesday, telling them that it is becoming more difficult to identify the threat posed by an evolving al Qaeda, which has become more reliant on its regional terror networks to conduct attacks.
Intelligence from the suspect and other sources indicates that there are other people like Abdulmutallab who were trained in Yemen and were not all killed by the U.S. raids there in December, ABC News consultant and former counterterrorism official Richard Clarke said.
"There are people like him who we don't know their names, we don't know what they look like, but they probably don't look like our stereotypical view of an Arab terrorist," Clarke said on "Good Morning America" today. "We may not even know what country they're from -- they may be British, they may even be American -- who are out there and that probably means there will be another attempt."
Other intelligence beyond Abdulmutallab's statements have also stoked concern. Since Christmas, sources said, there has been a steady stream of evidence pointing to more attacks, including intercepts of radicals boasting about what's to come, informants suggesting a new assault and evidence found in Yemen confirming that other suicide bombers are being trained.
But despite the sobering assessment from the nation's top intelligence chiefs, Clarke said, another attempt does not necessarily mean there will be another successful attack.
"We shouldn't panic here," he said. "CIA directors always say this once a year in an annual threat briefing. And they always predict there's going to be another attempt. Another attempt does not mean another successful attack so we shouldn't all head to our bunkers."
Nevertheless, special teams with experience in asymmetrical warfare are gaming possible attack scenarios, and the FBI has been looking at travel records from Africa to determine if operatives such as Abdulmutallab have already made their way into the United States.
The government has identified a number of specific suspects whose traveling patterns in Africa are similar to Abdulmutallab's, and they have disappeared.
Blair today also warned House members of "malicious cyber activity" by terrorists.
"The United States confronts a dangerous combination of known and unknown vulnerabilities, strong and rapidly expanding adversary capabilities, and a lack of comprehensive threat awareness," Blair wrote in his threat assessment. "Malicious cyber activity is occurring on an unprecedented scale with extraordinary sophistication."
The attacks, Blair said, could disable financial systems.
The chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, Rep. Silvestre Reyes, D-Texas, singled out China as a threat to U.S. national security, especially in regard to cyber attacks.
"The United States continues to be a victim of a disturbing increase in the scope, virulence and potency of cyber attacks," he said. "Whether the perpetrator is a terrorist organization or a state actor, the threat to our energy, financial, communications and security infrastructure remains the same."
Republicans Pan White House Decision to Brief Reporters
Republicans today panned the White House's decision to brief reporters on Abdulmutallab Tuesday evening. Senior administration officials told reporters that the terror suspect's family played a key role in getting Abdulmutallab to talk to authorities.
House members said that information should have been shared with them first.
"I do find it an interesting strategy that we hastily call a briefing to let America and our friends and our enemies in the Middle East know that he's now singing like a canary," said Rep. Pete Hoekstra, R-Mich., the top Republican on the House Intelligence Committee.
Rep. Mac Thornberry, R-Texas, said, "I can't think of a reason why that would happen other than political cover."
Blair said he would not comment on the "internal processes" for this investigation and does not want to "go into the political side of it." But he did say he was surprised by the "combination of reality and politics" in this issue.
"I can't control all of the politics," Blair said. "I just want to protect the country."
White House deputy press secretary Bill Burton said today the intent of the briefing Tuesday evening was to let Americans "know that we're doing everything possible to keep the American people safe.
"Nothing came out last night that compromises any of the investigations," Burton told reporters.
The attacks from the GOP today come after Senate Republican leaders criticized U.S. intelligence officials for reading Abdulmutallab his Miranda rights the day after the attempted bombing of Northwest flight 253.
"It makes no sense to capture someone fresh off the battlefield and within 50 minutes, read them their Miranda rights and lose all the intelligence they possess to help us win this war," Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., said at a news conference Tuesday.
Republicans have also questioned the Obama administration's decision to try Abdulmutallab in civilian court rather than before a military tribunal.
In a letter to McConnell, Holder defended today the choice of a civilian trial, saying it is consistent with previous policies and procedures.
"Those policies and practices, which were not criticized when employed by previous administrations, have been and remain extremely effective in protecting national security," the letter stated. "They are among the many powerful weapons this country can and should use to win the war against al Qaeda.
"The Bush administration used the criminal justice system to convict more than 300 individuals on terrorism-related charges," Holder added.
Despite the criticism, experts said, the FBI has been relatively successful at getting Abdulmutallab to provide information.
"FBI is very good at getting these people to talk, and despite all the partisan sniping about what the FBI has done, they are the professionals and they have been much more successful than the previous attempts at torturing people and trying to get them to give information that way," Clarke said. "The FBI does it right."
The discussions between Abdulmutallab, his lawyers and federal investigators began last week as Justice Department officials explored the possibility of offering Abdulmutallab a plea deal in exchange for his cooperation and information he has about the terror network.
FBI agents secretly went to Nigeria and identified influential members of Abdulmutallab's family who disagreed with what he had done, and then brought them back to the United States to talk with him, sources told ABC News.
Abdulmutallab is providing information about his al Qaeda handlers in Yemen and others who were training with him, officials said. The Nigerian national faces life in prison, not the death penalty, and, administration officials said, his cooperation appears to be driven by the power of his family's persuasion.
The information Abdulmutallab is sharing, officials said, has been described by other officials as fresh and actionable.
"It has been very successful, as far as gaining his cooperation that will allow us then to follow up on that information," a senior administration official said, adding that the intelligence gained "has been disseminated throughout the intelligence community."
ABC News' Jake Tapper contributed to this report.